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Mirtle: Maple Leafs blueline looking thin minus Gunnarsson

Toronto Maple Leafs' Dion Phaneuf checks  Boston Bruins' Chris Bourque during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto February 2, 2013.


His minutes have been down and he hasn't looked particularly comfortable on the ice.

On Monday, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally revealed what exactly has been limiting defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, the team's No. 2 all of last season.

"He had an MRI done and he has an ailment in his hip area that is causing a little bit of discomfort," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "There's no muscular tear. There's nothing other than irritation there.

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"It's been something that's been bothering him for a while. But we feel like it'll settle down. Other than medication and a little bit of rest and treatment, he should be back with us shortly."

Gunnarsson wasn't on the ice at the morning skate Monday prior to the Leafs meeting with the Carolina Hurricanes and missed Saturday's game against the Boston Bruins.

He has been coy when asked about playing through injury, but there was talk out of Sweden (where he had been playing during the lockout) that he had missed time with a groin problem.

Gunnarsson's skating hasn't been nearly as strong as it normally is and, in person, he looks a bit beat up. It probably doesn't make sense to keep playing him at 70 or 80 per cent, either.

His is a bigger loss than it might seem, too. Gunnarsson averaged about 22 minutes a night last season as a dependable partner with Dion Phaneuf, serving as the "safe" second half of the Leafs overworked top pair.

Those two were facing other team's top lines every night at even strength and were plus players until everything (especially in goal) went pear shaped late in the year.

This year, meanwhile, Phaneuf has looked out of sorts, especially on the power play, and one theory is it may be because he is getting too many tough minutes with a partner (Mike Kostka) who he has to look out for a lot more than Gunnarsson.

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(Phaneuf is fourth in the NHL in minutes played per game, ahead of people like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Kostka is, incredibly, 13th, likely in part because Carlyle hasn't had Gunnarsson at full speed.)

Toronto continues to lack a lot of serviceable options in terms of tough defensive minutes, but they've recalled Korbinian Holzer from the Toronto Marlies and he could get a longer look in that role.

Carlyle, however, wasn't revealing much of anything about his lineup on Monday morning.

"Just be Korby," Carlyle said when asked what Holzer has to bring. "Be the player he's capable of. We saw him play at a much higher level in the AHL... It's pretty simple. Be trustworthy day in, day out."


- Speaking of possible lineup changes, Carlyle said Clarke MacArthur, who has missed the last three games after his pinkie finger was shattered in New York eight days ago, is available to play. MacArthur was skating on the fourth line in the morning skate, however, and it's hard to say where he fits in exactly.

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- One move that doesn't appear to be as likely as you'd first expect is shifting Jay McClement down the lineup to get MacArthur back with his usual linemates, as Carlyle has really liked what he's seen from that second unit so far.

Here was the coach on McClement on Monday: "He's been a nice addition [to the second line]. Almost seamless. He's given that line another dimension. I think he's helped in their overall game. If there was a player that we want our players to replicate it would be the work ethic of Jay McClement. That's what this team needs more of.

"We're going to ask if we put MacArthur [back] there that he take a page out of McClement's book."

- Asked a few Hurricanes to offer a scouting report on the Leafs, and the basics were that this is a fast team that likes to score on the transition and that you have to play physical against. Carolina is a somewhat small team, but they have some toughness on the back end that they intend to use Monday night.

- Carlyle on the Leafs brutal record at home the last 15 or so games: "It's imperative that we have a strong home record to qualify for the playoffs. It's as simple as that. We have to find a way to get points in our building. That's the bottom line. I don't know what else I can say other than it's something that we're stressing."

- More Carlyle: "When we won a couple, we were being praised that really I don't think we were deserving of. I think we have to remain grounded."

Leafs lineup (projected)

JVR - Bozak - Kessel

McClement - Grabovski - Kulemin

MacArthur - Kadri - Frattin

McLaren - Steckel - Komarov

Phaneuf - Kostka

Liles - Komisarek

Holzer - Franson


Hurricanes lineup

Tlusty - E. Staal - Semin

Skinner - J. Staal - Dwyer

Larose - Jokinen - Bowman

Wallace - Brent - Westgarth

McBain - Pitkanen

Gleason - Faulk

Sanguinetti - Harrison


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